England vs. America: The Drinking Debates

By Jenny Rae

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Alex Mojcher/Collegian File Photo

Across the Atlantic Ocean and far away, there sits a quaint island from which many a cultural emblem has emerged. In England, a boy with a lightning shaped scar, black hair and glasses first marched from the ink of his writer onto a napkin in a café. From this same country sprang a global phenomenon of a game involving feet and a black and white ball, as did a certain player with the last name Beckham. While Americans are conscious of these uniquely British elements, including the stereotypes of the English’s aptitude for tea-drinking, they may not be as aware of how student life operates across the pond. Despite sharing the same(ish) language, England and America vary dramatically on their approaches to one of undergraduates’ favorite pastimes – drinking alcohol.

18 vs. 21

Aaliyah once sang that “Age ain’t nothing but a number,” but at the door of McMurphy’s on a Friday night, this definitely isn’t the case. If you’re not 21, you’re not getting in. England, on the other hand, allows its residents to legally drink by age 18. Bearing the nickname of “Binge Britain,” it can certainly be argued that the U.K. is at odds with the vigorous policing of alcohol in the United States, with underage drinkers in England more likely to face their drinks being poured away in front of them than the potential legal punishments facing underage consumers in America. Moreover, people in England can drink openly in public. In the summer months, English drinkers congregate in green spaces to sip ciders fearlessly. Whereas in America, the brown paper bag method rules the roost. The restriction on public drinking in America somewhat limits the fun of pre-drinking on the way to your destination. However, the United States is also not plagued with tidal waves of beer cans and bottles bursting onto the shores of Britain’s hotspots.

Pubs vs. Bars

Pubs represent the heart of England in both rural and urban settings. The English inhabit them like Americans inhabit coffee shops. The United States has attempted to replicate the traditional feel of the iconic pub establishment, but manages to fall somewhat flat. Americans are unable to capture the warm, quixotic environment of the English drinker. In America, the “bar” is more prevalent than the “pub.” Instead of serving low alcohol percentage drinks, such as beer or wine, Americans are more likely to chug ruthlessly from steep cups or down shots to reach maximum levels of drunkenness in the shortest possible time. While this practice is entirely excessive, at times it can be quite impressive. And here lies the essential difference between the United States and the United Kingdom: the pub revolves around conversation and the experience of enjoyable tipsiness, whereas the bar often emphasizes getting wasted until you can’t see straight. While the English sip on expensive pints of beer (up to $6 these days), Americans beg to pass the pitcher. Yet don’t be entirely fooled by the implied sophisticated nature of the English pub. After all, at around 4 a.m. the gutters of the big U.K. cities house the sloppiest of binge-drinkers. The English don’t necessarily drink fast, but they can certainly drink to excess.

University vs. College

College parties are the backbone of the American booze scene. With red Solo cups overflowing and beer pong tournaments abound, American parties often put English parties to shame – providing they don’t get shut down by the cops. Successful ones, immortalized in such films as “Project X” and “Superbad,” are idolized by Brits. With the Greek Life scene on American college campuses, a component of university life absent in English institutions, there are plenty of places to house these raucous gatherings. While house parties do often occur in England, they’re usually messy affairs thrown in tiny, terraced student houses where partygoers squeeze together like sardines. Thankfully, English students have other options: student unions on campuses provide cheap alcohol. Plus, the small amount of classroom hours ascribed to most students allow them to go out mostly midweek when the clubs, pubs and bars lure students in with deals and free shots. In England, everybody drinks. In America, the shots and chasers method of drinking may have stemmed from a fear of Prohibition or of getting caught red-handed by police, parents or even dormitories’ Resident Assistants. Everybody drinks, but some countries are sneakier about it than others.

Jenny Rae can be reached at [email protected]